Outrage after Malaysian Muslim man, 41, makes 11-year-old Thai girl his third wife
Rubber scrap dealer Che Abdul Karim Che Abdul Hamid said he would only formalise the marriage when the girl turns 16 and that she would stay with her parents until then
Malaysian authorities are investigating the marriage between an 11-year-old Thai girl and a 41-year-old Malaysian Muslim that has sparked public outrage and calls for child brides to be banned.
Rubber scrap dealer Che Abdul Karim Che Abdul Hamid secretly married the girl as his third wife in Thailand, and the union became public after one of his wives lodged a complaint with police.
Muslim girls under the minimum legal marriage age of 16 can wed with the consent of the sharia court and their parents.
Muslim men in Malaysia can marry four wives.
Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail has said the marriage was illegal as it had not been approved by the sharia court.
“My officers are working with other local enforcement agencies to look further into this case. This includes whether there are elements of sexual grooming between the man and this girl before the supposed marriage. This is an offence” criminalised last year, Wan Azizah told a press conference.
Photos on social media showed the groom holding the girl’s hand after the marriage ceremony.
Local media said Che Abdul Karim, who is also an imam in a rural village in northeast Kelantan state, already has two wives and six children aged between 5 and 18.
He told Bernama news agency that his marriage was lawful and approved by the girl’s parents, who are poor rubber tappers in Malaysia.
He has said he would only formalise the marriage in Malaysia when the girl turns 16 and that she will stay with her parents until then.
The girl was also quoted as saying by local media that she does not understand the fuss over her marriage as she is in love with Che Abdul Karim.
Wan Azizah has told local media that officials are investigating if the parents approved the marriage due to poverty.
“The consent of a child under 12 years old is not consent” under the law, she said.
She said an initial investigation showed the girl, who does not attend school, was wooed twice and that her mother had told the man the girl was too young and asked for the marriage to be consummated only when she turns 16.
She also said the girl’s elder brother was grappling with juvenile problems, adding to the complexity of the issue.
“Paedophilia, child exploitation, child pornography … we must be firm on this as children are our responsibility,” she was quoted as saying.
Activists have urged the government to raise the minimum age for marriage to 18.
The UN children agency called the latest child marriage “shocking and acceptable”.
The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia expressed concern that allowing child marriage in the name of religion might “provide cover for paedophiles and child sexual predators”.
The National Human Rights Society said government data showed there were as many as 15,000 Malaysian child brides in 2010 and called for laws to criminalise child marriage to protect minors.
“Marrying a 11-year-old girl is like the behaviour of a child predator or paedophile,” child activist Syed Azmi Alhabshi.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse